Music in Mears is celebrating its 10th year of providing free local music (and local films) in St. Paul – and its backstory is just as interesting as the entertainment it provides.
Brian Horst founded the music festival, located in Mears Park, in 2004. His main profession: Hair stylist with little or no experience on running a music festival.
“I started a full service salon in Highland Park in 1999 and in 2002, I opened up another location downtown to really get in the trenches of downtown,” Horst said. “I found out that downtown had a lot of potential.”
After getting involved in an economic revitalization group, Horst said putting on a music festival in Mears Park made sense.
“I just thought it was so special, with all the volunteer gardeners who do all the work in the park to make it so beautiful. I just thought it was — and not to sound cheesy — but an enchanted place that a lot of people didn’t really appreciate.”
So, Horst pitched the music festival to Randy Kelly, former mayor of St. Paul, in July 2004.
“I said, ‘I think somebody should do some concerts in Mears Park,’ and he said, ‘Go for it. Do four shows in September.’ So, I said, ‘OK, well, give me the park, sound variance permit and a beer and wine permit and I’ll put four shows together,’ and I walked out fully expecting it not to happen.”
Not more than a week later, however, everything was set and Horst said, “I had to put my foot in my mouth,” and start preparing the shows.
What started with minimal crowds and a handful of bands grew over the years. The show jumped to six shows in 2005 and then 12 shows in 2006.
“The band quality definitely increased (over the years), we had a nicer budget, so we were able to bring in nicer bands.”
Horst said, from the beginning, the focus has always been on presenting local music to Minnesotans.
“We have such a vibrant community of musicians and it’s great because we can book some of the staples that are local …. And we can bring in some new bands and team them up with the established locals and it’s nice to give them a platform.”
Now, in its 10th year, Music in Mears is now trying something new: Locally-made independent films.
“It’s new this year and it’s awesome. We put up a link and they put out some requests for film submissions through a couple of film organizations and it’s been amazing — the outpouring. Even those guys (who helped set up the film submissions) were taken aback by the number of submissions. It’s been really cool to see. I’m totally pumped.”
There will be three feature films, a couple nights of short film compilations and a night of music videos, which include well-known musicians like Bon Iver, P.O.S. and Dessa.
After 10 years, Horst is nothing but satisfied with the way the music festival has progressed and where it stands right now. He credits the help of St. Paul, funding from grants and those who joined in and helped him as the life blood of continuing the shows.
“It’s been a fun run. I’m happy to see it grow and I’m proud to keeping it going.”
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